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A man convicted in his teens for killing a child is released on parole. He finds work as a church organist and develops a rewarding relationship with a priest and her young son. However, his caring for the boy catches the attention of his old victim's mother, bringing to the surface her bad memories and unanswered questions. This draws them both into troubled waters, having to learn when to hold on and when to let go. Written by
In director Erik Poppe's film 'DeUsynlige' or Troubled Water when translated into English, follows a young man named Jan Hansen-played by Pål Hagen- who has been just released from a prison sentence because of his role in the death of a young boy when we was a teenager. A broken man, in spirit and body-he has broken fingers on his right hand-in his attempts to re-assimilate into life; he becomes an organist at a local church and befriends a female priest and her young son. While he is starting to get back on his feet, he cannot escape his past crimes as Agnes-the mother of the boy he killed played by Trine Dyrholm-and he himself cannot move on with life. The movie then follows these characters as they still struggle to come to terms with the terrible event that was the young boys death all those years ago. Jan Hansen attempts to bury his past actions, while Agnes's life falls apart as she still believes Jan is dangerous. When Jan becomes a fatherly figure to Jens, the female priest's son, emotions begin to spin out of control.
Poppe was long a cinematographer before gaining fame for directing with Hawaii, Oslo in 2004. Troubled Water follows the same line with Poppe's past cinematic style and a plot focused around multiple characters and the drama of human interaction. All of Poppe's movies experiment with color and lighting, showing his past as a cinematographer. However, it is immediately noticeable that there are large departures in the cinematographic style in Troubled Water compared to Hawaii, Oslo; Poppe's previous movies are brightly colored while Troubled Water is tinted grey. While this does sound like a critique-a movement toward an uninspired visual style-the drab coloring is very evocative of the tone and plot of the movie; enhancing emotional punch of the movie.
An emotional punch is a very succinct description of the way one feels when viewing Troubled Water. There are often events that are out of our control, or a mistake that can rule the rest of our lives; the question becomes how do we move on with life and advance forward though our past, especially if the event is life defining. This is the central question that Poppe explores in Troubled Water. To quote the Priest-also one of the central messages from the film-"Life goes in different ways". Jan Hansen can never undo his crime, and Agnes will never fully deal with her sons' death; the only solution for these individuals is a form of catharsis. The facing of ones issues head on.
One of the most thought provoking elements in Poppe's film is the role of religion. While this theme may be lost of foreign audiences, but the Nordic countries-the main audiences for this film- are deeply secular and unreligious. The movie makes one of the main set pieces a church, and throughout the movie there is a large amount of portrayal of communion and religious services--religion playing a large role is a bold move and a highly deliberate choice. The church is what offers Jan to find his footing-it gives him a much-needed family, a job, and purpose to his life. Troubled Water becomes used as an exploration of what is the role of religion in the deeply unreligious Nordic countries. In an angry explosion by Agnes to the priest about his hiring of a murderer, he calmly replies, "if he doesn't have a second chance here, then where will he?"
Poppe continues his excellent reputation he has built on Hawaii, Oslo with Troubled Water. Another excellently crafted human drama that will leave the viewer thinking long after they have finished watching. The dismal color scheme, the story unfolding in small parcels as we learn the truth about past events, the excellent acting performances all come together to make a truly great film. An exploration of how one deals with the tragedies of life and the role of religion even in a deeply secular society, it would do one well to use this movie as a lens and a lesson to view their own life. While the plot and themes may be extreme comparatively, the facing of our own problems is universal.
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